Thursday, October 11, 2007

A New View of Nicaragua

During our time in Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to speak with our tour guide about some of the misconceptions and questions that I had about the country. He told me that, contrary to what I had heard, Nicaragua was the safest country in Central America. This was interesting to me, especially after the reactions of "please be careful/ten cuidado" that I recieved from everyone who heard I was going to Nicaragua. We discussed the unemployment rate, which he claimed was closer to 30% instead of 50%. That still constitutes a problem, but that 20% makes a huge difference. That is a large number of people who do have jobs. Perhaps it was at 50% a while ago but has fallen since then. The poverty, he asserted, was due to the violent history and war in the country. Nicaragua has been at peace ever since the civil war and he had high hopes for the country. Development takes time, but things are changing. There has only been a very short period of time that Nicaragua has been run by a democracy, especially compared to its southern neighbor. How could the two countries be compared in terms of economics or development? Of course Costa Rica will be better off; it has had more time as a stable democracy. He had a positive attitude in addition to a lot of confidence that Nicaragua can reach its potential. This can be seen, he claimed, in the recent increase of tourism to Nicaragua.
We continued to discuss Costa Rica and Nicaragua relations. He brought up the interesting point that perhaps the Costa Rica government does not want a good, positive impression of Nicaragua because this would hurt tourism in Costa Rica. If Nicaragua has an improved reputation, then perhaps more people would go to Nicaragua instead of Costa Rica. He told me, “nunca se habla de los costarricenses que vienen aquĆ­ para trabajar,” which roughly means that it is never mentioned that the Costa Ricans come here (Nicaragua) to work and that only the opposite that is mentioned. I have yet to decide how to take this information. I found that much of what I thought about Nicaragua was not true. While there were more people begging on the street and the poverty was more apparent, it was still not as I expected.
My feeling is that there is a large about of bias and misunderstanding on both the Nicaraguan and the Costa Rican side. Our guide is only one person in Nicaragua and does not represent the entire population. However, I do know that many of the expectations I had about Nicaragua that I had learned from Ticos were wrong and Nicaragua was far nicer than I could have imagined. My assumption would be that the truth of the situation lies somewhere in the middle. I hope that our guide was right and that Nicaragua can live up to its potential. Such a beautiful country ought to be brought out of its poverty and into a better situation. Time will tell how the country is able to develop. Hopefully, a time will come when Nicaragua has progressed enough that immigration will no longer be what people turn to in order to find work and that this will result in the two countries no longer having such tense relations. Traveling to Nicaragua was very beneficial for me, as it reminded me that there are two sides to everything. I am glad I had the opportunity to visit Nicaragua and see for myself what it is really like there.

-Amanda Gross

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